U.S. Slow to Require Side Underride Guards on Trucks
A total of 4,102 people died in truck crashes in 2017, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The majority of those people (82 percent) were occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorists. The most common fatal injury in trucking accidents is being crushed by falling in the exposed space between the front and rear wheels of a truck. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, truck crashes are more likely to be side impact crashes. In fact, between 2005 and 2009, 556 pedestrians and bicyclists in the U.S. were killed after side-impacts with trucks.
Lives can be saved by implementing measures to help prevent side-impacts with trucks. One such measure is the installation of side guards on trucks with high ground clearance. A number of studies conducted in the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, and the Netherlands show that side guards dramatically decrease the number of fatalities in trucking accidents. After truck side guards were mandated in the U.K., cyclist fatalities dropped 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities dropped 20 percent for side-impact accidents.
While side guard requirements were adopted worldwide, the U.S. is slower to adopt any regulations requiring the technology. However, several U.S. states and cities adopted or are in the process of adopting truck side guards, including New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. 
Studies conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the number of collisions resulting in injuries or death involving the side of trucks could be reduced by the installation of side underride guards. The NTSB recommended to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop performance standards for potentially life-saving side underride protection systems for trucks, and for newly manufactured trucks to be equipped with technology meeting the standards.
Side underride guards are a simple solution to a deadly problem. The costs to truck manufacturers and trucking companies far outweigh the benefits to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. While the rest of the world has recognized these benefits and implemented regulations requiring side underride guards, most of the U.S. still lags behind. However, steps are being taken to ensure the reduction of injuries and deaths involving sides of trucks. Several U.S. agencies and organizations, including the IIHS, NTSB, and NHTSA, are taking steps toward researching the benefits of requiring side underride guards. Further, a number of states and cities are taking steps towards requiring retrofitting trucks with side underride guards and requiring newly manufactured trucks to be installed with the guards. Soon, this simple and potentially life-saving technology will be more broadly implemented in the United States and North America.
This blog was co-authored with Stark & Stark Summer Associate Joseph Antonakakis.